Not many second year students are in a position to start a multi-million dollar charity. But when Ilan visited our “effective altruism” community in Oxford, he discovered an opportunity to start a new charity doing research into the most effective ways to end factory farming. Through the community, he received advice, web design, and funding. Today, Animal Charity Evaluators has influenced over $5m of donations, and has an annual budget of half a million dollars.1
If Ilan had just handed out business cards at networking conferences, this would have probably never happened. And this illustrates what many people miss about networking: the value of joining a great community.
If you become a valued member of a community, you can gain hundreds of connections at once, because once one person vouches for you, they can introduce you to everyone else. That means it’s like networking but one hundred times faster.
In fact, getting involved in the right community is perhaps the single biggest thing you can do to help your career, and have a greater impact. You’ll not only gain connections, but knowledge, character, motivation, and more.
In this article, we’ll explain how our community can help, and how to get involved.
Table of Contents
What is the effective altruism community?
There are lots of great communities out there. We’ve enjoyed being part of Y Combinator’s entrepreneur community – it made us more ambitious and (we think) more effective at running a startup. We’ve also enjoyed participating in the Skoll social entrepreneurship community, the Oxford philosophy “scene”, WEF’s Young Global Shapers, and many others.
Joining any good community can be a great boost to your career. But there’s one we want to highlight in particular: the effective altruism community.
It’s a group of people devoted to using evidence and reason to figure out the most effective ways to help others, using the ideas in this guide, among others.
We helped to start the community back in 2012, along with several other groups. There are now over 100 meet-ups around the world and around 20 conferences every year, including in Africa and Asia.
“Effective altruism—efforts that actually help people rather than making you feel good or helping you show off—is one of the great new ideas of the twenty-first century.”
Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and author of The Better Angels of Our Nature.
More importantly, the community gets stuff done – its members have pledged billions of dollars to effective charities, done groundbreaking research, and founded over ten organisations focused on doing good (more figures).
If you liked this guide, then you’ll probably like lots of people in this community. But the real reason we’re highlighting it is because it can help you to have a much greater impact.
If you’d like to get involved, the easiest thing to do right now is to join the effective altruism newsletter. Otherwise, read on.
How the effective altruism community can boost your impact
We know people who have been involved with McKinsey, Harvard Business School, the Fulbright scholarship, the World Economic Forum, and other prestigious networks, but many of them say they find it more useful to meet other people in the effective altruism community. Why?
First, there are all the regular benefits of gaining connections that we covered earlier: finding jobs, gaining up-to-date information and becoming more motivated. We’ve come across some of the most high-achieving, smart, altruistic people we’ve ever met through the community.
But the benefits of working with a community go beyond that, and are perhaps even greater than people normally think. People have complementary strengths and weaknesses, so a designer and an engineer can together build a much better product than either could alone, and achieve more than twice as much.
Fundamentally, this is driven by the gains from trade. In a community that works together, people can specialise, and get economies of scale. For instance, rather than learn about every important field yourself, one or two people can become experts in each area, then advise everyone else. That’s exactly what Dr. Greg Lewis is doing. He did the research into how many lives a doctor saves that we saw earlier. After realising it was less than he thought, he decided not to focus on clinical medicine. Now, he’s studying public health with the aim of becoming an expert on the topic within the community.
You can even collaborate with people when you don’t share their goals. Suppose you run an animal rights charity and meet someone who runs a global health charity. You don’t think global health is a pressing problem, and the other person doesn’t think animal rights is a pressing problem, so neither of you think the other’s charity has much impact. But suppose you know a donor who might give to their charity, and they know a donor who might give to your charity. You can trade: if you both make introductions, which is a small cost, you might both find a new donor, which is a big benefit.
But what makes the effective altruism community even more powerful, is that we do share a common goal: to help others as much as possible. If you help someone else to have a greater impact, then you increase your own impact too, so you both succeed.
A reader, Sam, donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to charity before he turned 26. He was helped by someone in the community who told him about an internship. They were happy to advise because they knew Sam was planning to give away a large share of his income.
“80,000 Hours helped me think more critically about my career choice, which has had a significant impact on where I am today.”
Here’s another example: in the early days of 80,000 Hours, there were two people who had to choose between running the organisation and earning to give. We realised that Ben would be better at the former and the other had higher earning potential. So, Ben became the CEO, and the other person became our first major donor, enabling us to grow much faster than we could have otherwise.
In a normal network, people pursue their own projects, so it’s harder to collaborate. When you share values, however, you don’t need to “keep score”. It’s also easier to trust people, which makes it much faster to start new projects (technically, it reduces “principal-agent problems”). Moreover, a shared set of norms makes it faster to communicate and learn. All this means, if you want to have a big social impact, perhaps the most important step is to build a community of people who want to do the same.
After getting involved, we’ve seen people get all kinds of help and advice, become more altruistic and ambitious, change how they think about doing good, and achieve far more than they ever expected.
What to do now
The easiest thing to do right now is to join the effective altruism newsletter. You’ll be sent a couple of emails that introduce the key ideas; a monthly update on new research; and updates on the occasional event near you.
To start meeting people right away, or ask a question about your career, join our LinkedIn group:
If you want to go more in-depth, check out Doing Good Better, a book by our co-founder Will MacAskill. Steven Levitt, the author of Freakonomics, said it “should be required reading for anyone interested in making the world better” so you know it’s got to be good.
More ways to meet people
Engaging online can only go so far. To make strong connections, you need to meet people in-person.
The best way to this is to attend an Effective Altruism Global conference. Once you’ve met a few people in the community, ask for more introductions.
Start by aiming to meet people in a similar situation to yourself, since there will often be opportunities to help each other. Then, try to speak to people who are one or two steps ahead of you (e.g. if you want to start an organisation, meet people who started one last year).
When you’re getting involved, look for “five-minute favours” – quick ways you can help someone else in the community. There are probably some small things you can do that will be a great help to someone else in the community, such as making an introduction or telling them about a book. This will both have an impact and let you meet even more people.
Another way to get more involved is to visit, or even move to, one of the hubs of the community. These are, roughly in descending order of size: San Francisco, London / Oxford / Cambridge, Berlin, Boston, Melbourne / Sydney, New York and Vancouver. Read more about why and how to visit.
How can we work together more effectively?
Now, let’s wrap up.